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The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever Hardcover – August 20, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In an effort as ambitious as it is (probably) impossible, former Vice editor Gollner (The Fruit Hunters) embarks on an epic quest to understand the nature of immortality. His exhaustive research leaves no fountain of youth untasted, no faith unexamined, and no pseudoscience unquestioned. This book is both a personal journey and an extensive overview of the ways in which humans cope with the idea of death and attempt to defy the aging process. Gollner approaches a number of religions with respectful curiosity, chatting with Jesuits, Sufi Muslims, Hasidic Jews, and more to gain perspective on the nature of the afterlife. He hobnobs with magician David Copperfield (who claims to have discovered a fountain of youth on his private island) and heads to Florida in search of Ponce de León's fabled find. He tours cryonic facilities, attends a get-together of immortalists and a Harvard-sponsored anti-aging symposium, and wraps it up with a Buddhist Elixir of Life ceremony. It's an engrossing, immensely fascinating tour of beliefs and attitudes about death, presented with a relatively unbiased, if skeptical, eye. There is no one true answer provided here; in fact, there may be too many answers. As Gollner puts it, We haven't yet found certainty. We can uncertainly state that we likely never will. His attempt may be the next best thing. Agent: Michelle Tessler, Tessler Literary Agency. (Aug. 20)
*Starred Review* Death perplexes the agnostic Gollner, who marvels at how people respond to its existential threat with immortalizing beliefs. Interrogating such beliefs, Gollner questions priests, mystics, magicians, and scientists—diverse voices for the nearly universal yearning for eternal life. The author contemplates religious doctrines defining death as a portal into eternity, and he reflects on martyrs’ steely faith in such doctrines. But as a skeptic, Gollner craves empirical proof. Yet in scrutinizing near-death experiences—including his own harrowing teenage brush with death—he finds only maddening ambiguities. The struggle to interpret these ambiguities carries readers into Freud’s theories, Swedenborg’s visions, and Whitman’s poetry. But this intensely personal attempt to understand mortality’s boundary turns satiric when it leads to naïfs and charlatans seeking not life after death but life without death. Without the excuse of their predecessors’ historical circumstances, these modern immortalists recapitulate early alchemists’ and explorers’ search for life-perpetuating potions or a Fountain of Youth. Though his research identifies scientists exploring plausible medical strategies for maximizing longevity, Gollner skewers with barbed irony the credulous souls who believe they can actually defeat death with New Age mantras—or schedule the medical resurrection of their cryogenically preserved bodies. A probing inquiry into the most insistent of human hopes. --Bryce Christensen
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